Confessions of a Spy
Although the Cold War is supposed to be over, you may rest assured that espionage -- the world’s second oldest profession – continues full tilt. No Great Power can defend itself from other Great Powers (or even a madman with a suitcase atomic weapon) without an effective espionage program.
But the United States must do a much better job of collecting intelligence and a far, far better job of counterintelligence – protecting its innermost secrets – if we are to survive. What brings this to mind is Confessions of a Spy: The Real Story of Aldrich Ames by former Oklahoman, Pete Earley.
Unlike some writers, Pete Earley uses the term “spy” correctly. For example, the fictional James Bond was not a spy. He was an intelligence agent either stealing classified information for Her Majesty’s Government or trying to keep spies or other secret agents from stealing classified information.
A spy is, by definition, a traitor and former CIA officer, Aldrich Ames, is a traitor of the worst sort. He not only betrayed the special trust placed in him as a CIA officer by providing highly classified information to the Soviet KGB, Ames went out of his way to provide the KGB with the names of 20 spies working for the CIA inside Soviet intelligence. The KGB shot most of his victims; some are imprisoned for life and the fate of a few is still unknown.
Ames had helped recruit some of the men he betrayed. Some, he had “handled” as a CIA case officer. Others were just names and code names to which he, unfortunately, had access.
But Aldrich Ames was not recruited by Soviet intelligence to work for them. He volunteered. One day, he walked into the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C. and gave a note to a Russian guard expressing his desire to spy for the KGB.
But one has to wonder why Aldrich Ames had not already been the target of a Soviet recruitment effort? Here is what intelligence agents are taught to look for when recruiting a male prospect: He can gain access to highly classified information or weapons or weapons systems. Has personal problems such as alcoholism or drug addiction or gambling or is deeply in debt. Is married and a womanizer or homosexual. Is sexually involved with non-U.S. citizens. Is failing in his work. Has no moral compass, such as religious belief.
Aldrich Ames was almost all of these things. Ames was a CIA insider who, from time-to-time knew just about everything the CIA was doing and with whom it was working. He was an alcoholic who had been reprimanded on occasion for getting falling-down drunk and obnoxious in public. He could not manage his finances and was deeply in debt. His first marriage was a sham and he slept with any woman who would have him. He was falling to be promoted along with his contemporaries. He divorced his American wife and married a foreign national. He is an Atheist.
It is hard to imagine which intelligence service was the more stupid. The KGB for not spotting and trying to recruit Ames or the CIA for not seeing that a person with all of Ames’ personal, family, moral and financial problems was the poster boy for a Soviet recruitment. Incredibly, Ames operated as a Soviet spy or “mole” for nine years before his was caught.
But Ames was not a super-spy highly skilled in the tradecraft needed to avoid detection. Ames was a dunder-headed klutz only slighter more adept than the comical Inspector Jacques Clouseau. So, why was he hired? Nepotism. His father worked for the Agency.
Nepotism, cronyism and blind, bureaucratic self-protectionism created and sustained Aldrich Ames. The recent spy scandals in both the CIA and the FBI can be traced to these causes. Pete Earley’s Confessions of a Spy should be required reading at both the FBI Academy and the CIA’s training “farm.”
William Hamilton is a nationally syndicated columnist who spent several years in Europe during the Cold War working as an intelligence agent.
©2001. William Hamilton.